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be advised then; erase it even from your memory, and stand erect before the world on the high ground of your own merits, without stooping to what is unworthy either of your or their notice. remember that we often repent of what we have said, but never of that which we have not.
Thomas Jefferson to Gideon Granger, March 9, 1814

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wounded leaders do well to hold their tongues.
Granger had written Jefferson three weeks earlier, asking his recollections in matters where Granger was now accused of acting improperly. He was preparing to make a written defense to the nation. In this lengthy reply, Jefferson offered as much background as he could remember but cited “the decay of memory consequent on advancing years.”
He concluded his letter with this advice:
1. Forget about defending yourself. (It will work against you, he wrote earlier.)
2. Forget the accusations. They deserve neither your attention nor others’.
3. Stand tall on what you know to be true.
4. We are responsible for what we do say. We do not have to answer for what we don’t say.

Many years before, George Washington had advised his young protege Jefferson to remain silent when attacked. In the time it took to answer one accusation, 10 more would spring forth. He couldn’t win at that game. Better not to play at all. It’s the same advice he was now giving Granger.

Politics can be a blood-sport. It is surprising the thin-skinned Jefferson lasted as long as he did. Granger’s 12-year tenure as Postmaster General ended a week after this letter was written. He retired to New York to manage his business interests and pursue state politics. He died in 1822, at age 57.

“I don’t believe anyone left the room once you started talking
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How deep are your convictions?

I shall be perfectly happy if either of you are named, as I consider the substituting, in the place of Cushing, a firm unequivocating republican, whose principles are born with him, and not an occasional ingraftment … (italics added)
To Gideon Granger, October 22, 1810

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Solid leaders have solid convictions.
Granger wrote Jefferson about the death of Associate Supreme Court Justice William Cushing of Massachusetts, appointed by President Washington in 1789. Granger was interested in the job, as were several others he named and whose qualifications (or lack thereof) he listed. Jefferson replied that either Granger or his former Attorney General, Levi Lincoln, Sr., would be suitable replacements.

The nation’s judiciary had long been in the control of the Federalists, those who opposed his and now President Madison’s policies. Jefferson wanted a strong republican (small r) counterbalance. What kind of republican qualified?

Not a johnny-come-lately. Not a sometimes-republican. Not one who adopted those principles for political expediency. No, Jefferson wanted someone rock solid, firmly committed to the cause. He compared the commitment he sought to the values an adult would have, one whose views were established because he was born into a family of those same values.

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Are judges above the law?

… but the third [branch of the government, the federal judiciary], unfortunately & unwisely, made independant not only of the nation but even of their own conduct, have hitherto bid defiance to the public will, and erected themselves into a political body with the assumed functions of correcting what they deem the errors of the nation.
To Gideon Granger, October 22, 1810

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
ALL leaders should be accountable to their constituents.
Preceding this excerpt, Jefferson expressed his pleasure that the legislative and executive branches remained republican (small r), giving themselves to the “great reformation in our government” that occurred with the election of 1800. The courts were another matter.

Federal judges were appointed for life. Some of the still-serving justices were Federalists, political opponents appointed by President Adams before he left office in 1801. The means of impeaching justices for professional or personal misconduct were unenforceable. That left the judicial branch unanswerable to anyone but themselves. This allowed them to assume a role Jefferson never thought they were meant to have, passing judgment on the actions of the other two branches of the national government.

(Any number of times, I’ve read both Jefferson’s thoughts and others’ analysis of those thoughts regarding the proper role of the judiciary. I still can’t make sense of them.)

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Would you help me help my neighbors?

… I am personally a stranger among the neighbors there [at Poplar Forest, near Lynchburg, VA] … and [I] have never had the opportunity of making myself personally acceptable to them by any particular service. it is so pleasant to possess the good will of those among whom we live that I have wished occasions of acquiring it, & one now offers particularly interesting …

I have now stated facts [all the reasons why Lynchburg merits better postal service.]; you will decide on them …. may I ask the favor of you, when you shall have seen what you can do … to let the communication pass through me. I have candidly stated in the beginning of my letter, my sole motive for this, that I may acquire the good will of those among whom I pass a considerable time, not for any interested purpose, but merely to make myself happier, but whatever you do, I shall be satisfied it is right …
To Gideon Granger, September 20, 2010

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Servant leaders always look for ways to benefit others.
Retired from the Presidency for a year and a half, Jefferson now spent more time at Poplar Forest, his get-away plantation near Lynchburg. He lamented not knowing his neighbors well and wanted to change that by offering some service to them. What they needed was better postal service, currently just one delivery each week. Jefferson saw a way to earn the friendship and esteem of his neighbors.

Thus, he wrote to Granger, his Postmaster General for eight years, now filling the same role for President Madison. Jefferson didn’t propose more service, which would have cost more. Rather, he proposed better service, outlining faster delivery routes and a more convenient schedule. The result would be better service at the same cost.

Now came the favor Jefferson requested. If Granger granted the changes, would he communicate that through him? That would give him the pleasure of announcing it to his neighbors. His service to them might result in their friendship toward him. That’s all he wanted.

Regardless of Granger’s decision, Jefferson in advance approved the rightness of his choice.

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His portrayals of Jefferson and
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Clark are exceptional.”
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What if political leaders thought this way today?

I certainly wish the prosecutions you allude to should be put an end to … I have never considered the political hatreds and slanders pointed at me, as meant against me personally, but rather as the representative of the party, the real object of hatred. for what could there be personal between that gentleman & myself? I am sure I wish him no injury, and if he intended one to me, I know it must have been from false impressions made on him. peace therefore be with him.
Thomas Jefferson To Gideon Granger, January 22, 1808

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders don’t take harsh opposition personally.
Jefferson supporters in Connecticut were suing his opponents for libel, the printing of disparaging (and perhaps untrue) information. The President wanted those prosecutions stopped.

Here are six great for guidelines for civility between those of opposing views:
1. However mean-spirited, he didn’t take political attacks personally.
2. They were really directed at the party he represented, which they hated.
3. He knew of no personal difference between himself and his attackers.
4. He was confident of wishing them no harm.
5. If they meant to harm him, it was for false impressions given by others.
6. Jefferson answered cursing with blessing: “peace therefore be with him.”

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made a significant contribution … “
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How do you judge fitness for office?

I happened to be in the neighborhood of Lynchburg immediately after the death of mr Leak the postmaster, & availed myself of the opportunity I had to enquire, from good persons, into the characters of the competitors for the office. they are as follows.
1 Christopher Lynch … they are half quakers in religion, & more than half feds [Federalist Party, the oppostion] in politics. avaricious, oppressive & disliked extremely by the inhabitants. his appointment would be very displeasing.
2. Cocke … unoffending, but entirely insignificant in character, having neither the enmity nor the friendship of any body. of no character in politics, but of federal society.
3. Seth Ward. of a well known & longstanding family of Virginia … of strict integrity & worth, esteemed & beloved by every body; now keeping a tavern for a livelihood, the best one in the place. firmly & thro’ all times republican. [Jefferson’s persuasion]
4. the revd. William Heath of whom I know nothing but from Dr. Jennings, a worthy man, who sais in his letter to me ‘he is struggling to raise half a dozen children to be an ornament to society & instruments for the perpetuation of republican principles.’
To Gideon Granger, September 1, 1806

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Supportive leaders help subordinates make their own decisions.
Jefferson had visited Poplar Forest, his plantation and second home near Lynchburg, VA. While there, he scouted potential replacements for the recently deceased postmaster and passed what he learned to his Postmaster General. Below are some of the characteristics he noted, ones he thought ought to be considered in choosing a replacement.

  1. Political leanings, whether “fed” or “republican”
  2. How each was regarded by people who knew him well
  3. Personal information: Background, character, family, business interests, and in one instance, religion.

Jefferson expressed a negative opinion about Lynch only, not a reflection of his religion or politics, but that he was greedy, mean and disliked.

Jefferson left the decision to Granger.

“Every county official I spoke with who attended the Opening Session
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Executive Director, Association of Indiana Counties
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This is what I think, but let another decide.

As far as can be judged from the maps, the road from Fort Stoddert ought to bear down South Westwardly, to get into the Spanish road leading from Mobille to Baton Rouge, before it crosses Pascagoule river. then follow that road (which is nearly due West) till it crosses Pearl river. then quit it & go nearly due South to the neck … [depending upon] the person you employ, whose examination on the spot must controul our ideas where they are impracticable.
To Gideon Granger, April 24, 1806

According to Lafon’s map … of the Environs of N. Orleans, it may seem doubtful whether it is best to cross the Pearl river at the Spanish road & come down on the West side to the Rigolet at Stikinoula, or to take off from that road on the East side of the river where it is intersected by one of the Indian paths travd by Lafon, & come down to Bois-doré … but these circumstances can be estimated only by persons on the spot.
To Gideon Granger, April 25, 1806

The Jefferson Leadership Blog began February 21, 2011. This is the 500th post. 😀
Today, May 5, 2015, is the 25th Anniversary of my first presentation as Thomas Jefferson. 😯 

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Not all leadership issues are grand ones. Or necessary ones.
Granger has been Jefferson’s Postmaster General for almost five years. On several occasions, the President’s correspondence dealt quite minutely with proposed routes for postal riders. These letters are examples.

There were very few established roads. Postal riders used a combination of roads, paths, Indian trails, and rivers. Where none of those were helpful, the rider would blaze his own trail on horseback, armed with a hatchet for clearing the way.

Jefferson-the-empiricist consulted the best maps available, made his observations but didn’t make the call. Jefferson-the-delegator favored decisions made locally rather than in Washington City. He wanted someone who knew the area personally, maybe the one who would actually ride it, to choose the route.

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Who gets sacked and why?

nothing presents such difficulties of administration as offices. about appointments to them, the rule is simple enough … but removals are more difficult. no one will say that all should be removed, or that none should. yet no two scarcely draw the same line. I consider as nullities … [see below] but the freedom of opinion, & the reasonable maintenance of it, is not a crime, and ought not to occasion injury. these are as yet matters under consideration …
To Gideon Granger, March 29, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Even-handed leaders are just in evaluating the opposition.
Granger (1767-1822) was a Connecticut lawyer and writer and a strong supporter of Jefferson and the republican cause. Later in 1801, the new President would appoint him Postmaster General, an office he would hold for both of his administrations and the first of Madison’s.

Three and a half weeks into his Presidency, Jefferson was already experiencing the formidable challenge any new elected official faces, which employees to keep and which to remove. He was receiving requests for appointments in the new administration. For someone to be appointed, someone else had to be removed. Not all current employees should stay, nor should all be removed. What criteria should apply? These standards are taken from text in this letter not included above:

  1. Republicans should enjoy “the same general proportion” of offices in the government as they did in the population at large. At this point, they held none, because Federalist partisans held all.
    2. Appointments by President Adams after his defeat but before he left office were “nullities” and should be vacated.
    3. Those who ” perverted their offices to the oppression of their fellow citizens” should be removed. Examples cited:
    – “Marshalls packing juries”
    – “attorneys grinding their legal victims”
    – “intolerants removing those under them for opinion sake”
    – “substitutes for honest men removed for their republican principles”
“We heard nothing but praise from audience members.”
Policy Director, Washington State Association of Counties
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What invites corruption in public officials?

our country is too large to have all it’s affairs directed by a single government. public servants at such a distance, & from under the eye of their constituents, will, from the circumstance of distance, be unable to administer & overlook all the details necessary for the good government of the citizen; and the same circumstance by rendering detection impossible to their constituents, will invite the public agents to corruption, plunder & waste …
To Gideon Granger, August 13, 1800

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Honest leaders know a lack of accountability invites corruption.

To answer the question in the headline: Too much distance from one’s constituents.

Jefferson was addressing the Federalist effort to consolidate more and more power in the national government. The nation, only 16 states at the time, was already too large to have all of its affairs directed from its capital, soon to be Washington City. The same distance that made overseeing “all the details necessary for good government” impossible set the stage for corruption.

Why? That distance also made it impossible for constituents to keep a close eye on those public servants. Without that control, the temptation to “corruption, plunder & waste” was just too great. Jefferson always favored state, county and ward rulers over national ones. Those were governments nearest the people, ones citizens could watch very closely.

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Can you have one without the other?

The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
Summary View of the Rights of British America, 1774

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Freedom-loving leaders know when half a loaf won’t do.
This thought was key in Jefferson’s final paragraph in Summary View, his appeal to the British king and parliament through the Continental Congress. The natural rights of life AND liberty came from the same source and were bound together, almost as one.

England could destroy both their lives and their liberty, but they could not separate them. Life without the liberty to enjoy it at one’s will (within that society’s self-imposed limits for the general welfare of all) would be a violation of natural law.

Jefferson followed this excerpt with these prescient words, “This, sire, is our last, our determined resolution; and that you will be pleased to … redress of these our great grievances, … ” England did not respond in any positive way. Two years later, Jefferson would reprise the thoughts of Summary View in a much shorter document, the Declaration of American Independence.

“He had them in the palm of his hand, from the moment he strode into the room …”
Assistant to the Executive Director, Illinois Association of School Boards.
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Leave a comment Posted in Natural rights